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Who’s Influencing the Person You Need to Influence?

The United States Navy had a problem: Recruitment was down as fewer young people were showing an interest.

Surveys revealed a number of factors, but the largest one was that mothers were discouraging their children from enlisting.

In response, the Navy hired a marketing firm called Campbell-Ewald to build a website called Navy for Moms (www.navyformoms.com) for mothers of children in the U.S. Navy and for “Moms who have questions about Navy life for their kids.”

Within a year, recruitment noticeably increased and the site accumulated 27,000 members, 100,000 photos, 750 videos and 6,000 topics in the online forums.

What the Navy learned was that targeting the direct prospect wasn’t enough. It had to find and allay the concerns of the influencers.

The same lesson applies in the business world. You need to know:

Who has the CEO’s ear and what have you done lately to reach that person?

Sometimes all it takes is asking those influencers: “What can we be doing to make your life easier?”

  • Would it help you if we sent our billing electronically or included your file number?
  • Should I check in with someone other than the CEO to set up appointments?
  • Is there someone I should go to with questions – someone that I’m not talking with now?
  • Would it help if we had extended hours or a toll-free number?
  • Is there somewhere else I should be sending copies of our report?
  • Is there something you wish we could handle that we’re not currently doing?

There is often a hidden bonus to having this conversation with influencers: You may walk away with additional business when the person who really doles out the work says, “I didn’t know you did that.”

I’m reminded of my relationship with one of our long-time clients:

The CEO had a secretary who had been with him for a hundred years. Every time I called, I made a point of chatting with her – not because I felt obligated, but because she had her finger on the pulse of the company. She knew where the CEO was in terms of geography and workload, and I liked talking to her.

Recently, she told me that another lawyer had inquired about doing work for the company.

“We can’t switch attorneys,” she told me. I’ve devoted eight years to training you!”

Building the relationship does not begin and end at the top. Often, the relationships that matter are those forged with the people who are not writing the check.

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Eliot Wagonheim shares business insights that help companies stay on course. Get our latest blog posts sent right to your inbox. Click here to subscribe.